By Katie Mouganis

Big Read had the pleasure of welcoming the self-proclaimed “Book Person” Byron Borger to Hope College this past Thursday, November 9th. Byron owns an independent bookstore in York Pennslyvania called Hearts and Minds. For 41 years, Byron has been providing literature for his community and beyond! Byron spoke on “Why Reading Widely Matters…and why it especially matters now.” Byron told us why reading matters through stories of novels and of people who have been changed by reading. 

Byron spoke to each person in the audience and asked: 

When was the last time you read for yourself, just for you? 

What book made a difference in your life?

What books have you gotten lost in? 

As we reflect on these questions, it becomes evident that books affect our hearts and minds. Byron believes that reading can change the world; that reading has changed the world. Reading in community can change the world. 

Byron discussed some of the ways that reading in community can change society and individuals. Books offer opportunities for growth in communion to create a stronger community. Reading together is essential to the listening and civility that upholds our democracy. The inherent listening of reading supports intellectual hospitality, and openness to new thoughts. Many of us feel the stress of a polarized society. Literature can help heal this by motivating progress, change, and even peace. Reading in community can enhance empathy. Byron references Homegoing and its power to create empathy by allowing the reader to experience the stories of the generations of an African-American family. While reading Homegoing, my heart broke for Esi in the dungeon, for Ness and Sam in the horrors of slavery, for the loneliness of Abena, and for the addiction Sonny experienced. These stories and the history of oppression create the kind of empathy that Byron believes can change the world. 

This and much more is why we read, why we read widely, why we read diverse literature, and why the Big Read reads in the community! Byron asked another provoking question about our reading: “How can I behold a book?” He asks us to read literature in awe and in wonder of the words. He asks us to allow books like Homegoing to change our affections, perspectives, dreams, ethics, and more. In Homegoing, Majorie’s English teacher asked what she thought of a book; she asked “But do you love it? Do you feel it inside of you?” We find out later that Majorie dedicated her life to African literature because “those are the books that she could feel inside of her.” We must read those stories that we feel inside of ourselves and that we behold to cultivate our voices and understand the voices of others. Byron, a bookseller, inspires us to read for the heart and mind of ourselves and our communities.

Katie Mouganis is a senior at Hope College majoring in Secondary English Education, and is a member of the Big Read team.

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